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Jenn Donato



Current position: 


Current facility:

Smithsonian's National Zoological Park

Year zoo career began:


Jenn currently works as a supervisory registrar at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute where she is in charge of “keeping a few folks and researchers out of jail”. As part of her job, Jenn supervises the record keeping and documentation for the zoo’s animal and scientific collections, arranges animal transfers and transport, applies for permits and communicates with permitting agencies such as the USDA, the US Fish and Wildlife Services, and the CDC, ensures compliance with the Smithsonian’s collections policies and the AZA’s accreditation standards. If something happens with any animal at the zoo, Jenn has to know about it.

Jenn did not begin her career in zoos but actually began with a passion for museums and science. She earned an undergraduate degree in science and technical writing from NYU between 1997 and 2001, which was driven by her love for science. She worked as a biomedical editor for a few years but didn’t want to continue working in the pharmaceutical industry, and so she was driven to shift careers into something that still involved science but included more adventure. She volunteered at the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) in New York City, did postgraduate studies in archaeology and evolutionary anthropology, and earned a master’s degree in museum studies at Columbia University between 2007 and 2009. In 2010, Jenn began a PhD program in archaeology at the University College of London and split her time between London and New York while she taught at the AMNH and worked as a consultant for the United Nations. When her PhD program required her to live in Fiji for a couple of years to complete coursework, Jenn decided that life in academia was ultimately not her goal, and so she left the program and began working full time at the AMNH.

Jenn’s work at the AMNH focused on traveling exhibitions. Jenn would travel with specimens and artifacts to various museums around the world to ensure their care and supervise their installation. Some items she traveled with include dinosaur bones, a Martian meteorite, and the last letter from Antarctic explorer Robert Falcon Scott. The position involved a lot of travel to interesting places and was filled with many challenges, but after six years she was ready to move on. Jenn applied to the registrar position at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo because she was looking for an opportunity with less travel and new challenges. When she learned that her new office looked directly into a tiger exhibit, she was sold. Her new position has many similarities to her past role but comes with different challenges as she learns to work with LIVE collections. Jenn particularly enjoys working in science, her true passion, and being able to contribute to wildlife conservation in zoos.

Jenn’s favorite animal at the zoo is the Aldabra tortoises. She loves ancient things and is humbled to interact with creatures that have lived for such an enormous amount of time. In her free time, Jenn loves traveling and hiking and likes to visit national parks in the United States and in other countries. She tries to visit a new place every year on her birthday. Some of her traveling highlights include Volcanoes National Park in Hawaii, Havasu Falls in Grand Canyon, Fiji, the Faroe Islands, Machu Picchu, and the Atacama desert in Peru. Jenn wants to demonstrate that there are exciting and interesting jobs in zoos that do not involve direct work with animals, and being a registrar is one!

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